Teachers should focus on information and learning, not on the technology and simply getting ICT into their classrooms, believes David Warlick.
How is ICT changing what teachers can do?
Technology has done a lot but what’s really impacting on teachers is how information is changing. A number of years ago I wrote a book called Redefining Literacy. It started out being a technology book but the more I researched the more I realised it wasn’t technology I wanted to talk about, it was information. The nature of information has changed and, as a result, so has what it means to be literate.
For instance, an increasing number of teachers are getting students to blog. When they used to write an assignment on paper the teacher was the only person who was going to read it… and the students knew it. So, they write what they think the teacher wants to read. However, when they’re writing to a blog they know that their classmates are also going to read it… and respond. It takes the assignment to a whole new level where it becomes less ‘I’m proving to you that I understand what was in the chapter’ to a conversation within the class where the students are reacting to each other’s insights, and are learning more in the process.
Do teachers understand this new process?
There’s an expression that’s very common in the US: integrating technology. Go to conferences and everything is about integrating technology. But if you get a student to write an assignment on paper, then go over to the computer lab and type it in with a word processor that’s integrated technology. Has it really improved the learning experience for the students? No, not much at all. By and large, the problem with the way that we teach IT to our teachers is that the focus is getting it into the classroom – and that should not be the purpose. The purpose should be creating the new information environment, one that’s at the core of our children’s ‘outside the classroom’ experience with technology. We have to bring digital, networked, abundant, overwhelming information into the classroom. The focus needs to be on the information and the learning not on the technology.
While that makes a lot of sense to people who hear it when you’ve got the sort of day to day job that teachers do, where you’re just trying to make it the best day you possibly can, it’s hard to get past just the technology.
What’s stopping teachers – what are the challenges that they’re facing?
I think one of the biggest challenges facing them is the lack of time. Surgeons don’t spend all of their time in surgery; lawyers don’t spend all of their time in front of the jury. There’s a lot more to teaching than just teaching. It’s about collaboration, research, and materials development. There’s a lot to teaching today that wasn’t part of the job a few years ago. We have to understand that and somehow restructure the day. What we need is for teachers to work eight hours a day: four hours in instructional supervision, four hours in professional planning. Just think what a classroom could be like if every teacher had four hours of planning every day! Just think about the learning that could take place. Isn’t that the kind of classroom that our children deserve?
Is a lack of PD a barrier?
Professional development is a barrier, although I think they can teach themselves much of what teachers need to be learning to be able to modernise their classrooms. The worst thing a teacher can say is: “who’s going to teach me how to do that?” Teachers are teachers and should be able to teach themselves what they need to know. If they can’t then they probably shouldn’t be teaching. You want a teacher who can keep up. There are networks of other educators out there that can connect you with new skills.
Professional development doesn’t have to be something that is done to teachers – it can be just ongoing conversations they’re having with other professionals that they’re learning from every day.
What role do administrators and senior management of schools have to play in all of this?
I think they need to be expecting that the teaching and learning is digital, and networked. What’s going on in learning is part of this new information environment I’ve been talking about. They need to be pushing towards the new information landscape. What we need to be asking for and expecting is evidence of student work. I don’t think multiple choice tests are the answer – that’s the easy way out. I think that what communities really want to know is not just the grade but what children are learning, how they’re learning it, and what they’re doing with it.
How can that be achieved?
What I hope we’re going to be seeing in the next few years is more digital platforms. E-portfolios are going to be huge, but much bigger than our notion of e-portfolios now, with elements of social networks and course management. It becomes more than just a place where kids put samples of their work at the end of each year. It’s a place where students go to do their work, to collaborate with other students, to collaborate with the teacher, to get more information from the teachers, where students submit their work and, when it’s time for assessment, where selected work will be made available to the wider community.
What would you say to teachers that are reluctant to use and explore ICT?
My honest belief is ‘get over it or get out of the profession’. If someone’s not willing to teach in a contemporary information landscape, one that’s meaningful to the students then they need to find something else to do. We have been so patient, so forgiving. I don’t know about New Zealand but there’s been this sense in the US that we should forgive teachers for not wanting to do this.
Marc Prensky coined the expressions digital natives and digital immigrants – it’s a useful distinction but I worry that some teachers are actually using this as an excuse. I think that what all teachers should be trying to lose that immigrant accent. Okay, so we’ll never really understand it in the same way that our children do but I think we have to work toward that. It’s part of being a teacher.
If a teacher wants to do more, what would you suggest?
Set up a personal learning network. I could show you websites and tools but that’s as far as you’re going to get. You need to get connected. If I was a principal and wanted my teachers to start growing their ICT knowledge and their experience, I would set them all up with a blog. I’d divide them into groups of maybe four teachers and ask them to subscribe to the blogs of the others in the group.
They would have to write at least two articles a week about their experience of using technology. After a week, I’d suggest two other educator bloggers to subscribe and get them to share things they think would be of value to the group. This is starting a social network. They should then add more and it will reach a point when it’s going to become self sufficient and the learning is constant – as opposed going to a workshop and learning how to do something. It’s not that workshops are bad, I make part of living from teaching them, but teachers need skills that are going to enable them to keep on learning, not just to have learned what’s in a workshop.
Can you tell us about your Landmarks for Schools project?
My last real job was with the State Department of Education in Raleigh, North Carolina. The last thing that I did there was build the website and I left believing Web development was going to be the direction that I was
going in. So, I built this website – Landmarks for Schools. The idea was that the Internet is still a wilderness. Teachers really need to be there and I wanted to provide advice and information, ‘landmarks’, to help them.
What excites you about technology and teaching?
I got excited when I saw my first desktop computer, a Radio Shed Model 1. I sat there in front of the computer, I had really no idea what was going to happen. I thought maybe lights were going to start flashing on the screen. My professor turned it on and in the upper left hand corner it said ‘ready’ – and I fell out of my chair. This was a machine that was talking to me and telling me it was ready. Then he reached over, typed in instructions, and a program started loading – he was talking to the machine!
I had taught history for a number of years from the perspective of technology. We invented the bow and arrow, that affected our culture. We invented agriculture, that affected our culture. When I saw this machine, which you can communicate with, I immediately felt this is one of those technologies that’s going to profoundly affect our culture. I think that’s the power. In education, it gives new avenues and conduits within the classroom, within the learning group, in which educators and students can communicate with each other in very powerful ways.
When I was first getting into this, if it had been suggested to me there’d be computers like Macintosh or phones like an iPhone, that would have seemed absolutely outrageous. Now I wonder what’s going to be happening in five years from now that we aren’t even imaging today. That’s what’s exciting about it. That’s what cool.
What’s next for ICT in teaching?
We’re going to continue to need to assess learning but I think that we’re going to become very dissatisfied with multiple choice tests – which is the big thing in the US. If we come to rely on them too much it’ll mean we are teaching just those things that are being tested and we’re leaving out a lot of very valuable stuff. So, I think e-portfolios are going to be huge – but the development of the concept needs to go further.
Another thing that’s going to be exciting is watching the demise of traditional textbooks. They don’t make any sense to the kids and I can see them going digital. We could find consortiums of teachers collaborating together to develop content and digitally writing their own textbooks. We may find that we can actually do education cheaper digitally than we have been with 15th Century technology. What the textbook will evolve into as we enter the digital, networked-realm is exciting to me.
David Warlick was talking to INTERFACE Editor Greg Adams.
Who is David Warlick?
David Warlick has worked in education for 30 years. He has been a classroom teacher, district administrator, and staff consultant with the North Carolina State Department of Education. For the past decade, David has operated Landmarks for Schools (http://landmark-project.com) a consultancy and website, where you can find information about the most popular teacher tools available on the Web. He’s also the author of three books on instructional technology, writes a popular blog, 2¢ Worth (http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/), and was a keynote speaker at this year’s New Zealand Principals’ Federation Conference.